Monday, October 13, 2014

A Golden Couple

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Sushama talks about life with the business entrepreneur VP Nandakumar

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos by Ajesh Madhav 

One day, in 1974, Sushama received a letter. It was from her close friend Geetha's brother VP Nandakumar. In the letter Nandakumar had written, “I like you and your nature. And if you like me, please tell me. I would like to marry you. Please don't mention anything to Geetha now.”

Sushama was shocked, because she had looked upon Nandakumar as a friend. “I thought somebody was playing a trick on me by writing in Nandakumar's name, because we had many mutual acquaintances,” she says.

Sushama would meet Nandakumar whenever he would come to meet Geetha. Both Geetha and Sushama were students of the Vimala College in Thrissur. Earlier, all three had studied together at the Sree Narayana College in Nattika, Thirssur.

Sushama did not reply to the first letter. So Nandakumar sent another one. This time Sushama was convinced that it was Nandakumar who had actually written the letters. But she had apprehensions regarding the proposal. Sushama did not belong to a financially strong family, while Nandakumar's father, VC Padmanabhan, ran a successful money-lending business. “We lived just one and a half kilometres away from each other in Valapad,” she says.

When Sushama told her father, he said, “It is better to marry somebody of our economic standard.” An undeterred Nandakumar went to Chennai, where he met Sushama's eldest brother, Vyasa Babu, who was working as an engineer. Nandakumar was able to persuade Vyasa that he was serious about wanting to marry Sushama.

So, Sushama's family gradually made a turnaround. The wedding took place on June 21, 1978. Thereafter, the couple left for Chennai where Nandakumar was working with the Nedungadi Bank.

Sushama has fond memories of that time. The couple stayed near the Chetput station in Chennai. Every morning, when Nandakumar would go to work, Sushama would stand at the window and watch him walk to the station and take the train.

But during the day she felt lonely. So, Sushama would pass the time by cooking and sweeping the house. In the evenings, she would stand expectantly at the window and watch her husband come home.

The couple would spend their free time at the Marina Beach and go for films and outings. “It was a carefree and relaxing time,” says Sushama. “We enjoyed ourselves.”

But a few years later, Padmanabhan was afflicted with stomach cancer. He called his son home and said, “You can carry on with your job. The only problem with a bank job is that there will be transfers. It will be difficult for the family to stay together. Otherwise, you can resign and enter the business. The choice is yours.”

As the only son, Nandakumar decided to enter the business. This happened in 1986, the year his father passed away. In the past two decades, the Manappuram Finance Limited has grown by leaps and bounds. At present, the company has 3180 branches across 26 states and union territories, and employs more than 15,000 people. It has an annual turnover of Rs 8500 crore.

Asked about her husband's strong points, Sushama says, “Nandakumar has a strong will power and determination. No one can change his mind once he has decided to do something.”

He also has a constant striving to improve himself. “Since Nandakumar specialised in zoology in college, he began reading a lot of books on management, business and self-help to become better,” says Sushama.

Away from the business, Nandakumar has an innate love of animals and nature. At their sprawling bungalow in Valapad, there are dogs, cats, rabbits, emus, ducks, ostriches, doves, pigeons, parrots, goats and cows. “Every day he will spend time with them,” says Sushama. “He also likes plants and we have plantain, mango, nutmeg and coconut trees.”

His negative traits include a short temper. “But he cools down quickly,” says Sushama. However, Nandakumar's obsession with making the business a success did have an impact on the family. “For many years, Nandakumar would go to office at 8 a.m., and come home by 10 or 11 p.m.,” says Sushama “When the children were small they would miss him a lot. So I became the hands-on parent and looked after their studies and their daily needs.”

The couple have three children. Dr. Sumitha, 34, is a gynaecologist at the Kims Hospital, Kochi. She is married and has two children. Son Sooraj, 32, is working with his father. He is also married and has two children. The third child, Suhas Nandan, 26, is studying in the United Kingdom.

And despite being a busy mother, Sushama also had a career of her own. She was a teacher for 25 years and retired as headmistress of the Nattika Government Fisheries higher secondary school on March 31, 2011. Today, she is the managing director of Manappuram Jewellery. “Now when I attend office, I have a better understanding of the business,” she says.

Asked for tips to have a successful marriage, Sushama says, “Your spouse will have plus and minus points. You must learn to accept both. Be transparent and communicate all the time with each other. A lot of misunderstandings happen because of poor communication. Finally, both should have love for each other.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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